There’s still quite a bit of time for us to reminisce about the season that just wrapped up two weeks ago. Reminisce, we shall, for these final days of 2016, and for a little while into 2017 before we shift our focus on the camp series in early January. Most of the surprises that we saw in this season was a direct result of the coaching that led teams to either be successful and vice versa. Here’s a look at the most successful coaches (and teams) that took the field this season.
Doug DeMyer, Lake Gibson (13-1):
His father, Keith, stood on the sidelines of the Class 6A state championship as his Braves, the ones that he coached for years, played for a state title. For it was not his team anymore, for it was Doug’s, the man that turned the Braves into a state title contender for the first time since 2004, in Keith’s second year of coaching. The DeMyers have turned Lake Gibson into a fixture in each year’s playoffs, and it continued in 2016. That final game against Carol City was Doug DeMyer’s only hiccup from achieving a perfect season, which would have been the first in the school’s 37 years of existence.
He greets you with a horse voice after most games, a calm and collected man when he’s not coaching a game, one that cares deeply about his team and the community. DeMyer, recently named the 6A Coach of the Year by the Florida Dairy Farmers, did just about everything – beat out of area teams like Ocala Vanguard (twice, to be exact) and Miami Dr. Krop, they even did the unthinkable in knocking Armwood off of their perch. What’s even more impressive: Lake Gibson did it all with a first-year starting quarterback in Kevaris Thomas. There’s more coming from the Braves, believe it, but right now, hats off to DeMyer for an incredible first season as Lake Gibson’s head coach.
Robert Weiner, Plant (13-1):
Plant’s rise to fame wasn’t an easy one. 12 years ago, Robert Weiner stood in the Plant High auditorium and told the parents and players that they would be state champions in a few years. The crowd snickered, they though he was crazy. 12 years later, here Plant is, with four state championships under their belt, all courtesy of Weiner. The Panthers chance of their fifth title was halted by St. Thomas Aquinas in the 7A Final, just like it was in 2010. This time, the deficit was 17 points more than that in ’10.
It’s not always about the destination, it’s about the journey, right? Weiner found a quarterback in Dane Frantzen over Kyle Trina. He found Trina when it mattered as a wide receiver against Robert E. Lee, which powered them to the final. Thomas Allen led a top-notch defense while his father coached at Indiana. Juwan Burgess intercepted the pass that iced that game against Lee, with a dislocated shoulder. Weiner stood as the conductor of it all, while ‘fat-heads’ of him floated in the stands at Dad’s Stadium. Most of the time, the Panthers looked like an orchestra on the field, everyone playing a part, as they all reached for the same goal.
Matt Thompson, Jesuit (12-1):
In each of the past two seasons, Thompson’s Tigers have lost to an eventual state champion. Both were in the state semifinals. In 2015, it was Bishop Moore, in 2016, it was American Heritage. Jesuit fought back hard against the Patriots, but as Providence would have it, it was not the Tigers’ year. Coaching the Hillsborough County All-Time Leading Rusher for four years made it easy for Thompson to have faith in his rushing game, which in fact, Malik Davis was very faithful to Thompson.
It also helps when there’s a quarterback that has been as successful as Danny Boon in his two years starting for Jesuit. Boon goes out at 25-2, just not a state champion. Then there’s the role players, like Travell Harris and Braden Gilby, the energy guys like Anthony Nelson, but they all have to report back to one man. Thompson is now 41-11 in his four years at Jesuit, serving as district champions in all of those years. Bill Minahan still stands as the only Jesuit HC with a state championship, however, if trends continue, Thompson may find himself right alongside him.
Mike Alstott, Northside Christian (10-3):
Playing in the NFL for as long as Alstott did certainly has its benefits. Having a son as a starting quarterback also has its benefits. Alstott had that going for him in 2016, which helped the Mustangs achieve their first regional championship since 1986. It’s been quite the turnaround from when he was 0-10 in 2012 – his first year as head coach. Look at his first couple seasons with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, 6-10 in his first season in the league, and it would take seven years before he was a Super Bowl Champion. He just concluded his fifth season as head coach at Northside, with a gradual climb in each. Could 2017 or 2018 be the year that the ‘Stangs get over the hump?
The big question is: what will Northside do without Griffin Alstott? The quarterback was just named the Class 2A Player of the Year by the Florida Dairy Farmers, and he’s been a pretty large part of the offense over the past couple of years. Both led the team to Hialeah to play Champagnat Catholic, where they lost 14-3. In the week before, they trounced a favored Cambridge Christian 41-11 to get to that point. Northside beat 2015 Regional Champion First Baptist Academy on the road in Week One, and only lost to Victory Christian by five on the road. They were warriors in 2016, in which the experience of their head coach did wonders for the program.
Dominick Ciao, Berkeley Prep (9-3):
Where do we begin with the year that Berkeley Prep had? It was a year that Berkeley Prep wasn’t expected to make the playoffs after some inconsistency. Tate Whatley had transferred to Lakeland Christian, which made them look like a contender, while Tampa Catholic had their star-studded lineup. We should know that we should never count Ciao out. Berkeley lost to Tampa Catholic early in the year, 25-10, which catalyzed a seven-game win streak.
That streak included a huge 42-24 victory over Lakeland Christian, a lopsided victory against an 8A Steinbrenner, a shocking win over Orlando First Academy, and it ended with a very unexpected blowout of Tampa Catholic in the second round. Gordon Stetson went off, compiling 1,343 rushing yards on that win streak, including 510 against Lakeland Christian and Tampa Catholic (second matchup). The Bucs took their streak to Jacksonville, where they were defeated by eventual 3A Champion Trinity Christian. Berkeley Prep was the only team to not win their district and be a regional champion in the BCP coverage area.
Tommy Lewis, Victory Christian Academy (10-2):
We’ve come to expect this from the Storm over the past decade. In their history, the Storm have only missed the playoffs once. Victory Christian’s first season resulted in a State Championship appearance. It happened again in 2013. They won in 2014. They’re good, they’ve always been good. However, in the past two seasons, University Christian has been better. For the second straight season, the Storm lost to the Christians in the State Semifinal, and it was by the same margin.
The sustained success of the Storm has been incredible to see, but they’ve done it quietly, especially over the last year. Lewis is 40-13 in four years at VCA, similar to Thompson, just with a state title under his belt. Dalton Jenner threw for 2,207 yards and 21 touchdowns (adding ten on the ground) while Jayrd Alexander rushed for 814 – he’ll be back for another season. Victory Christian will find ways to win, like they’ve always done, and especially with Lewis at the helm.
Other Coaches to Note:
Ryan Benjamin, River Ridge – Benjamin led the Royal Knights to the third round of the 5A playoffs, which made school history in his third year as head coach. He also led River Ridge to their third straight district championship.
Bob Hudson, East Lake – The Eagles were back in serious playoff contention after finishing 2015 at 6-5, improving their record to 9-2 with a district championship. East Lake made it to the third round of the 7A bracket before being defeated by a tough Venice squad.
Don Mesick, Clearwater – In his second year, Mesick led the Tornadoes to their first playoff win since 2003, finishing with a perfect regular season record, and to the second round of the 6A playoffs, where they lost to Charlotte. Mesick has quickly turned the program into a playoff contender each year in his short tenure at Clearwater.
Sean Callahan, Armwood – The Hawks were upset by Lake Gibson in a 18-15 thriller in the second round. Either way, a 10-2 record and their fourth straight district championship was still a great achievement.
Jayson Roberts, Tampa Bay Tech – Roberts and the Titans won their first district championship since 2011, finally getting over the hump at 9-2. They had a thrilling double overtime victory against St. Petersburg in the first round. The Titans dropped their second round matchup to East Lake the following week.
Anthony Egan, Wesley Chapel – Due to some issues down the road, the Wildcats couldn’t make the playoffs, finishing 7-2, with losses to River Ridge and Zephyrhills. Egan set a tone at Chapel that changed the entire school, which was their motto throughout the year.
Chris Harvey, Clearwater Central Catholic – The son-in-law of the very successful John Davis extend the Marauders streak of district championships to five, however, they weren’t able to win a regional championship thanks to a nine-overtime game against Melbourne Central Catholic.